Grappling with Forgiveness
Semi-conscious, eyes not yet open, I was wary of wakefulness. Persistent as my tongue checking a canker sore, my first thoughts zeroed-in on a painful experience from the past. The person’s actions, though long ago and far away, were stuck on instant replay in my psyche. For weeks, I hashed and rehashed events I thought I had released to the farthest regions of my conscious awareness. No longer dulled by the remnants of sleep, “Why don’t you just forgive ________?” I asked.
Forgive and forget, right? I don’t put much store in forgetting the hurts of my life. I put them on a hard-to-reach shelf with the intention of simply letting them lie, and that works with the majority of them. Forgiveness is different. Rarely do I let the most grievous actions simmer undisturbed, so they continue to fester until I’m ready to address them. When it’s particularly difficult to forgive, I often procrastinate on doing the hard work of forgiveness. I answered my own question with, “Not yet.”
Like a mantra, I repeat: Forgiveness is releasing, letting go, moving on, no longer holding someone else—and especially myself—hostage to the pain of the past. Such often-stated words (clichés, even) regarding forgiveness irritate and frustrate me. Forgiveness is not akin to the now-popular but rather blithe (in my opinion) act of choosing a stone and tossing it into a body of water—symbolizing all those clichés regarding forgiveness. “Whee! I’m free!” Not so fast.
Forgiveness also involves a changed, different relationship with the person who dished up your pain. And it takes focused energy and determination to make that change. Toss as many stones as you want, but when you step away from the shore, it will take focused energy and determination to make those relational changes.
It’s the scope of such changed relationships that often holds me back from forgiving. That scope—that new, changed relationship and what it might entail—presents conflicting thoughts and emotions. You can restore a relationship, but that relationship will be different. What you allow in your life and what you refuse to let in must be adjusted in that changed relationship.
Hours after waking, the prospect of forgiveness continued to tug at me. The phrase, “grappling with forgiveness” came to mind. I looked up the definition of a grappling hook to be certain I was grappling: In combat, grappling hooks are used to set off trip-wire-fused land mines. They also are used to locate IEDs (improvised explosive devices).
Grappling hooks are claw-like. They are pointed. They have sharp edges. “These look too menacing,” I decided. “I’m not doing that kind of grappling.” But those hooks also are “used to dredge for submerged objects.” Perhaps I am grappling after all.
In considering an altered relationship post-forgiveness, one must be aware of the land mines and IEDs that threaten the soul. One must consider submerged issues and actions. Grappling it is.
In this grappling, I want to defuse the land mines and IEDs. I want the submerged objects to be excavated and in full view. And I can neither ask nor expect the person whom I forgive to do those things.
I can ask myself to do those things. When I ask, I question what might the future (if any) be of the relationship.
Where might I encounter land mines and IEDs—in public, at places of worship, at social events with friends, on social media, at family gatherings? How will I approach (or avoid) such precarious situations? What can I do—what will I do to make them less precarious? How can I bring a sense of peace and even grace to these areas?
Where and how might I encounter submerged issues that affect the terrain on which I stand? Where and how might I encounter once-submerged issues and actions that no longer are beneath my awareness? When necessary, how will I navigate terrain that requires more sure-footedness than I believe I have?
Each situation requiring or even containing a yearning toward the outstretched heart and hands of forgiveness is unique. Because of that uniqueness, I cannot answer these questions for anyone but myself.
The grappling hook is heavy and the rope holding it grows taut. Weary of grappling with forgiveness, I must ask the hard questions, find the good answers, and then act upon them.